“Probiotic foods, and to a lesser extent raw, fermented foods, have become quite popular,” but despite all the buzz surrounding products with these qualities, “perhaps the oldest, fermented food (about 8,000 years) has received no attention so far. Just about everyone knows about Greek yogurt, but even people in the business don’t think of olives as a fermented food,” Greg Leonard, founding partner for Alive & Well Olives, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“The way we see it, the star of the Mediterranean diet has been missed, quiet possibly because most olives have lost their fermented, probiotic character due to heavy-handed industrial processing,” he explained.
To set its product apart from competitors and ensure its ability to deliver on the health benefits consumers are seeking, Alive & Well Olives “are cured by fermentation which occurs naturally when they are immersed in brine and the lactobacillus cultures are activated” in a process that is similar to turning cabbage into sauerkraut or creating kombucha, he explained.
This process differs from that used to make many other olives sold in the US, which rely on rapid fermentation with the help of lab cultures and synthetic additives and the use of lye or ferrous gluconate solution to speed curing. Often these olives are then packed for sale in a new brine that has been acidified with lactic, acetic or citric acid, vinegar and benzoate or sorbate preservatives, Leonard said.
“These rapid curing techniques … only take a few days whereas traditional natural cures take months. The great financial advantages of rapid curing are at the expense and flavor and taste and destroy many valuable nutrients,” he added.
By allowing Alive & Well Olives to ferment longer with the “wild” cultures from their region, Leonard said, “the specific blend of micro-organisms result in subtle differences in flavor and taste in the cured olives. This is analogous to the terroir aspect of wine and cheese where a particular grape planted in different locations yields a different flavor in the wine when the naturally occurring cultures are used and cheese aged in a particular cave.”
He further explained that Alive & Well Olives have a “rich and complex” flavor profile that balances the “acidity, subtle sweetness and savory notes of the fruit itself” with a “mellow roundness” that comes from the olive oil in the cured fruit.
Traditional methods protect the probiotics
In addition to altering the taste, the rapid curing process used by many producers destroys probiotic benefits from the olives and brine because it often requires pasteurization to kill bacteria and mold that could be introduced during transfers.
Alive & Well Olives, on the other hand, are not pasteurized and therefore contain 3.6 million colony forming units per three to four olive serving or 55 million CFUs per jar, Leonard said.
He added that the company further protects against pathogens by packing the olives in jars that are refrigerated at the facility and as they are transported to stores, where they are sold in the refrigerated sector.
Currently the company imports six types of Alive & Well Olives, all of which have been well received by consumers, but with the most popular being Kalamatas, Green Rovies and a Greek Mix of those two along with Black Rovies, Atalantis and Chalkidikis olives, Leonard said.
Ultimately, he said, the brand provides “a great opportunity to give olive lovers in the US the real thing: Sustainably grown, traditionally cultivated, naturally lacto-fermented olives delivered to the consumer in a raw state with all their inherent flavor and nutritional advantages intact.”